The story in Gulliver’s Travels is a dependable workhorse, but because it was intended to poke fun at Europe’s aristocracy circa 1726 and the face of aristocracy is so different now it does need a bit of updating for it to still be relevant. (Of course, it can be changed so that it isn’t about aristocratic privelege, but that’s just a different type of update.) But I don’t think that throwing in a bunch of Star Wars references is the sort of update the story was really needing.
It’s not that I think referencing Star Wars is a terrible idea. (Although given that both Family Guy and Robot Chicken have both done full episodes devoted to parodying it, plus Spaceballs, plus etc. etc. etc., it is probably a bit too tired to be worth the bother anymore.) Because after all, this movie also features a re-enactment of Titanic, which is a little less played out. (But do kids care about a 3 hour long romance that came out before they were born?)
No, what bothers me is not the laziness of the jokes or the tone deafness of the movie, it’s that they didn’t even bother to engage with the original story in any interesting way. If you’re going to strip the story of it’s political elements because you want to aim it at kids then make a sincere effort to adapt it for kids. It’s a story about a giant surrounded by little people – don’t you think that kids could find a way to empathize? Don’t just breeze past the giant lands in a land of little people part to get to Jack Black boxing a killer robot; that’s so pandering it’s boring. Don’t completely ignore the parts that have made this a popular book for centuries to get to Jason Segel pulling a Cyrano De Bergerac and wooing a woman by repeating whispered advice; kids aren’t going to care about that romance and that’s a really played out device.
This movie got terrible reviews. Part of me didn’t want to believe it. Yes, Jack Black is very hit or miss, but Jason Segel is as dependably likeable as any actor I can think of, and it was written by the guy who wrote the last two Muppet movies, which were great. But this film deserved all the bad reviews it got. They took a solid story, shifted out all the compelling ideas and then papered over the gaps with jokes that wouldn’t even pass muster on Family Guy. Terrible.
Winner: The Cat